Immigrant Advocacy Day in Olympia, Washington

By Oliver Merino

Last month, I joined our network member Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) for their annual Immigrant Advocacy Day in Olympia, Washington. More than 400 advocates traveled to the state capitol from all over the state to demand lawmakers support the expansion of healthcare and unemployment insurance – regardless of immigration status, and provide resources to address the needs of newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers. 

Washington is home to more than 250,000 undocumented community members, the majority who are uninsured and continue to face the hurdles of lack of access to healthcare. Health insurance is a matter of life or death. While the state has made some inroads into expanding healthcare coverage, it’s not nearly enough. 

The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare the inequalities in the country, including healthcare and unemployment protections. People who attended the Advocacy Day shared how during the first two years of the pandemic, they continued to work despite the dangers of contagion. Though many were applauded as “essential workers”, they had no safety net if they got sick or lost their job. Many continue to struggle because the state hasn’t fully addressed these issues. 

During the march to the state capitol, people held signs that read: “Access to Healthcare,” “Governor Inslee, healthcare insurance and unemployment protection now!”, and a large banner with bold letters “Immigrants and Refugees United for Justice.” 

Attendees included dozens of asylum seekers who called on state lawmakers to invest $25 million for housing, food assistance, transportation, and legal support for thousands of migrants who have recently arrived in Washington. 

We met with dozens of state representatives and senators to deliver these demands. Community members shared their personal experiences and shed light on the struggles that the immigrant community in Washington faces. It was a powerful moment to witness hundreds of people inside the halls of the state capitol, all with the same goal of fighting to create a better future for themselves and their immigrant neighbors. 

The day ended with a rally on the steps of the state capitol. Speakers included advocates from African, LGBTQ, Latin American, and Middle Eastern communities, and reflected the diversity and power of the immigrant community in Washington state. 

It was an honor to join WAISN and hundreds of immigrant community members in Olympia. To keep up with the amazing work that WAISN is doing, follow them on Instagram

3/14/2024 Update: Because of advocacy and organizing efforts, groups were able to secure; $28 million to expand healthcare access, $33 million to support newly arrived immigrants, and $100,000 for a work group that will research a wage replacement program for undocumented workers. 

Automatic Injustice: Living Under the Legacy of the 1996 Immigration Laws

Deportations of immigrants and refugees spiked dramatically after 1996 when Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). These laws severely restricted the ability of an immigration judge to consider the individual circumstances of a person before ordering deportation, and greatly expanded the range of criminal convictions that result in mandatory deportation without judicial review. Even lawful permanent residents who have lived in the country for decades, came to the country as children, have advanced degrees or small businesses, or were adopted but didn’t naturalize can be deported automatically and permanently because of these laws. For twenty years, immigrant and refugee families have lived under the legacy of the 1996 laws.


IJN Opposes Inclusion of Detrimental Immigration Policies in Appropriations Legislation

IJN sent the following letter to Congress in opposition to the inclusion of detrimental immigration policies in FY 2016 appropriations legislation

Dear Member of Congress:

We write on behalf of the Immigrant Justice Network (IJN), a collaboration between the Immigrant Defense Project in New York, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild in Boston, to urge Congress to pass Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 legislation free of immigration policy riders that restrict the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and undermine community trust policies. Currently, appropriators are debating provisions that would restrict the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ability to exercise prosecutorial discretion for noncitizens who fall within the top two priorities of DHS’s civil enforcement priorities. Additionally, appropriators are also considering restricting federal funding to state and local jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal law enforcement authorities through community trust policies, colloquially known as “sanctuary city” policies. Incorporating these ideological and partisan immigration riders into the appropriations process represent a direct attack on the immigrant community and serves as a painful reminder of Congress’s failure to modernize our immigration system through the enactment of a just and comprehensive immigration reform.


The Immigrant Justice Network is a leading advocacy voice against the criminalization of immigrants in the United States. Grounded in racial justice values, we build power to defend the dignity of all immigrants.